Murdered Student's Family in Perugia for Hearing

Meredith Kercher's family is in Perugia while three suspects remain jailed.

October 28, 2008, 5:59 PM

ROME, Italy, April 19, 2008 — -- The family of Meredith Kercher, the 22-year-old British student killed in Italy last November, returned to the town of Perugia, Italy, this week to attend a hearing today in her murder case.

Kercher's mother, brother and sister returned to Perugia for the second time since the college student's November death in the medieval Italian town. They visited Perugia just days after Kercher was found dead and left a rose and a note on the steps of the Perugia Cathedral.

Kercher was found in her bedroom in a pool of blood, with her throat slashed, on the morning of Nov. 2.

Three people are presently in prison in Italy, suspected of being accomplices in the murder of Kercher, including Kercher's American roommate, Amanda Knox, 20.

The Kercher family is in Perugia to participate in a hearing in which a panel of experts will discuss the results of the autopsy carried out on Kercher's body last November.

A group of forensic experts have been asked by a Perugia judge to establish the cause of death, time of death and to ascertain whether Kercher was a victim of sexual assault. Their findings will constitute confirmed evidence to be used in court.

The Kercher family's Italian lawyer, Francesco Maresca, told ABC News the family came because "they know that the hearing tomorrow is an important stage in the investigation, and they wanted to be here."

It is the first time the family has attended any of the legal proceedings in the case.

Kercher's family, accompanied by Maresca, met today with Giuliano Mignini, the Italian prosecutor investigating Kercher's murder, who questioned them as witnesses and asked them about certain economic aspects of the British girl's life in Perugia, according to local press reports. Theft is being considered as a possible motive in the murder.

Knox, a student at the University of Washington, and her Italian former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, 24, passed from being key witnesses in Kercher's death to prime suspects when they were taken into custody four days after the murder.

Also arrested on Nov. 6 was Patrick Diya Lumumba, a local pub owner who, Knox told police under interrogation, was in Meredith's room with her the night of the murder when Knox heard screams.

Lumumba was released 10 days later when forensic police found no evidence placing him on the scene of the crime. At the same time, a bloody handprint found on the scene was identified as belonging to Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast native who lives in Perugia. He had fled to Germany, where he was arrested and brought back to Italy and jailed.

Knox, Sollecito and Guede -- who have been held in jail for almost five months without being formally charged -- all claim they are innocent. Italian prosecutors say they have evidence tying all three to the scene of the crime.

Suspects in Italy can be jailed for up to one year without being indicted.

At a meeting with journalists in Perugia on Friday, Meredith's brother Lyle read a statement in which the family said, "Nothing can be done to bring Meredith back to life, but we can at least ensure that those responsible are brought to justice."

The family said it has full confidence in the police and the forensic experts working on the case, in their lawyers and in the Italian justice system, "notwithstanding repeated attempts to discredit the evidence and compromise the investigation."

"We believe that every effort will be made to arrive at a conviction of the person or persons responsible," said Lyle Kercher.

Meredith's family members did not respond to questions about the investigation, and her mother Arline told journalists she had no idea what could have happened the night Meredith was killed, "but we didn't expect it," she said.

In today's court hearing, experts named by all sides -- defense, prosecution and judicial -- will discuss the evidence in the original autopsy report performed Nov. 7 by Dr. Luca Lalli. A final conclusion on the autopsy will be reached that will be considered confirmed evidence.

The coroners appointed by Claudia Matteini, the judge who will preside over the hearing, submitted a report earlier this week, and their conclusions did not differ radically from the original autopsy report.

Those experts concluded that Meredith died from "mechanical asphyxiation," a combination of strangling and suffocation. Kercher was held by the neck as she was knifed, and she suffocated on the blood from the large wound in her neck, the autopsy determined.

The original coroner's report had concluded that she bled to death.

In their report, the court-appointed coroners determined that that Meredith Kercher could not be saved:

"The survival time between the moment in which the cuts that caused the death were made and the moment of death did not make it possible to save the girl's life," the report said.

This latest report establishes the time of death somewhere between 8:45 p.m. on Nov. 1, when it is known that Meredith was still alive, and 4:50 a.m. the next morning, which is consistent with what investigators have said before.

Knox and her former boyfriend Sollecito said that they were home together at Sollecito's house that night, though their accounts have been inconsistent.

Investigators do not think they have told the truth and claim the two young lovers do not have enough evidence to support their alibi.

Guede admitted to being in Kercher's house at the time of the murder, but said he was in the bathroom when she was stabbed, and when he came out he found Meredith in a pool of blood as another man ran from the house. He recently said for the first time that the man he saw was Sollecito and that he heard Knox's voice in the doorway.

During previous interrogations, Guede had told investigators he could not identify the man he saw in Kercher's apartment.

Sollecito's lawyers dismissed Guede's statement, as "an improbable story, told by an unreliable person," the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

A lawyer for Knox told ABC News that Guede "has to explain why this statement has been made four months after he stated that he never saw Amanda and Raffaele that night [of the murder]."

Investigators are still trying to determine whether Kercher was sexually assaulted before she was murdered. The original coroner's report mentioned evidence of sexual activity, but could not confirm with certainty whether it was consensual or not.

The prosecution from the beginning interpreted the murder as a sex game gone wrong, involving all the suspects.

Kercher's body was found under a blanket, naked from the chest down. The DNA of Guede was found inside Kercher's body and on her bra, and Sollecito's DNA is also on the bra, investigators say.

The coroners appointed by judge Matteini found that Kercher had a sexual activity "close to the time of death," but based on the evidence available to them "it was not possible to determine whether it was consensual sexual activity or not."

Another important piece of evidence in the murder of young Meredith Kercher is a knife that was found in Raffaele Sollecito's house which investigators say has Meredith Kercher's DNA on the blade and Knox's DNA on the handle.

The experts appointed by Matteini concluded that this knife was "not incompatible" with the wounds found on Meredith Kercher's neck. Hence the knife could be the murder weapon, but the use of a double negative does not imply any certainty.

The experts also determined that two other switchblade knives taken from Sollecito after the murder were not compatible with the wounds.

These are the conclusions of the court-appointed experts, and the final decision on the confirmed evidence will be determined at today's hearing of experts from all sides of the case

"We don't expect anything surprising tomorrow," Maresca told ABC News, "but perhaps some aspects will be clearer."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events